THE LAST FLIGHT OF THE CLITORIS
1. Benny Giambattista, Lord Captain of the Constabulary of the Union of the Patriarchy of the Philippines, didn't like Christmas. But his crew did. Most of them were Catholics, many hardline. So even though they were 60,000 kilometers above sea level, on a diplomatic mission to China, inside Samson there were Christmas lights and caroling. There was even going to be a nativity play a night before they reached the Flying Country.
"The Dragon..." Benny was in the mess hall, having lunch with his First Officer. Around them lights blinked green, yellow, orange, red. "We shouldn't have left on a December." He chewed on his roast lamb. "You a Catholic, Tyrone?"
"Capricorn, sir." The young man grinned. "The Amazons are heathens, sir. They dispatched their ship hoping we would sacrifice diplomatic ties in the name of religion. If it weren't for you, sir, we would have."
Benny grunted. Sometimes he felt his First Officer was mocking him. A son of Lord, they owned almost every square meter of Aklan. Good shoulders though. Good, strong shoulders. "Tell me about their damned ship again."
Tyrone sat up straight and spoke as if he were a computer program. "The Clitoris, so called because of its miniscule size and awesome firepower, is piloted by one June Chua, traitor to the Union. Terrorist, heathen, lesbian. She has a crew of twenty, all grim and determined Amazons, with a speed--"
The Christmas lights went off and were replaced a dark red. Sirens blared. The lunching crewmen left their tables and ran to their stations. Benny interfaced with his computer link. "Carlitos?" His pilot.
"It's the Dragon, sir. It suddenly appeared in the screen. They're firing, the Chinese, the Amazons got to them first. They're firing! Permission to retaliate, sir!"
"Do not, I repeat, do not fire back. Maneuver us out of their weapons' range. Do not fire back!" He headed for mess hall exit.
Tyrone was right behind him. "So much for the crew's nativity play."
"If we get captured," Benny said, "they can perform in prison." The corridors were empty. He emphasized discipline. Samson's sons were battle-ready in thirty seconds. He made sure of that six months before they blasted off La Union.
"You want to try the portal?" Tyrone was still grinning, pointing right.
"That's for emergency purposes." He marched to the left. "If I'm going to die I want to be shot by the Chinese, not disintegrated by a damned technical glitch of a prototype."
Tyrone marched along with him. "Begging your pardon, sir, but we're not even sure it's the Chinese that're firing on us. After all, China rose to the skies more than fifty years ago. Maybe it's aliens that're inhabiting the Dragon. Maybe ghosts?"
Benny stepped into the elevator. He interfaced with its console, "Bridge." To Tyrone he said, "From what I know, Capricorn's are logical and level-headed."
"I am, sir. But remember, I'm also an A--" The elevator shook.
He interfaced with his computer link. "Carlitos? I said evade the Dragon. Evade! Carlitos?" Static. "Bridge? Bridge!"
"Sir?" Tyrone's voice came from below.
Still interfaced, Benny activated his flashlight. Tyrone was bloody beside his feet. He crouched, assessing the damage. "It's nothing," he whispered to his First Officer. Tyrone's left eye was bleeding and his nose was broken, but the blood was coming from elsewhere. Benny interfaced with the elevator's console. "Medical. Take us to Medical."
"Samson, cruiser. Crew complement, 200. Enough fire power to destroy Luzon Island, and I'm dying inside an elevator."
"Silence, Commander, silence. You'll live to see that stupid nativity play." He held Tyrone's head in his hands.
"Lord, I hope not." Blood dripped from Tyrone's nostrils. "I told you we should have taken the portal."
The lights went on. Still interfaced with the console, Benny shouted at the elevator: "Medical! Move you stupid machine!" In his hands, Tyrone's head became heavier. His shoulders had collapsed. Captain Giambattista whispered, "Bridge. Take me to the Bridge."
At the Bridge, only Carlitos was still alive.
Captain Giambattista scoured the debris and found a still functioning floater. Floating towards his pilot, he shouted: "Report!"
"We are out of the Dragon's weapons' range."
"Good work." Captain Giambattista pulled at his goatee. "Now take us to La Union."
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Lord Captain."
Captain Giambattista resisted the urge to interface with his laser. "And why is that?"
"To evade China, sir, I had to fly upwards." Carlitos motioned to his monitor. Interfacing with his computer, a projection appeared in front of the Captain's face. "See, the Dragon's patrolling the perimeter of the Philippines. The Chinese have mini-cruisers, too. We can't go back home again." The pilot gestured and another projection appeared. "These came just before we were attacked. The Dragon attacked Japan at 0900 hours, Philippine time. They threw their entire airforce at it. They no longer have an airforce. United Korea is hiding under a force field."
Benny fought the urge to touch the floating images. He interfaced with his computer link. "All hands, this is the Captain. Report!"
"I'm afraid no one's going to answer you, sir."
The pilot's face was smooth but Benny knew he was being smug. "May I ask why?"
"Communications is down." Carlitos tapped his monitor, and once more a projection came to life. "I'm not so sure, Lord Captain, but I do believe we were sabotaged."
This time Benny reached for the image. It was Samson, damaged at so many sections it was miracle they weren't falling, burning, to the Earth. "So there's no point in trying to contact the Patriarchs?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Sabotaged? Traitorous Catholics!" He gave Carlitos a raised eyebrow. "You a Catholic?"
"No, Lord Captain. A humanist, very much like yourself."
"Very well. Carlitos, I am about to promote you to the rank of Commander. You are about to become the First Officer."
"What about Tyrone, Lord Captain?"
"You used the word 'about' twice, Lord Captain."
"I'm going to promote you, but first tell me where exactly we are."
"We're in space, sir. We're to reach the moon in less than an minute, Lord Captain."
"Call me Benny." He jumped off the floater. He gave Carlitos a salute.
Carlitos stood up, returned the salute. "I am your man, Benny, to the death."
Lord Captain Benny Giambattista grunted. "Let's leave death to the dead. Our first task is establishing a stable environment. And then, you and I are going to light the fires for an Inquisition. In this, we are respecting the crew's Catholic traditions."
2. The first thing you'll probably want me to do is pull a rabbit out of a hat, and cut a woman in half, and make the Statue of Liberty disappear, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like doing any of it.
Benny broke off the interface. He couldn't understand a word of Tyrone's journals. The man had made endless lists, jotted fragments and collected quotations from obscure Filipino philosophers to pornographic tabloid columns. But each and every crewmember he had tortured pointed to his former First Officer as the leader of the sabotage. Seven men thrown out the airlock, twelve dead from electroshock therapy and thirty seven locked in the brig. "Perhaps he wrote in codes? Ah, these terrorists! Fundamentalist Catholics allied with the Amazons!" He stood up and tossed the remains of his dinner down the recycling tube. "This war is going to hell! And the damned Dragon..."
He needed someone to decipher Tyrone's obscure allusions. Hiding behind the moon for more than a month now, he had to find something concrete before attempting the return to La Union. The problem was, Tyrone had been his encyclopedia of trivia. He had been his source of information, Samson's computer couldn't match him. Was there a crewmember, alive and cooperative, who could match Tyrone? Benny stared at the only decoration of his room: a painting by his third wife. It was a seated man, legs apart, carrying the lying, dying figure of a naked woman. Pity, his third wife called it. Pity.
Benny interfaced, and the door opened.
Carlitos came in. "Reconnaissance reports. You better sit down, this one's a killer."
Benny remained standing.
Carlitos smirked. "Okay, I'll sit down." He sat on the floor. "We've spotted the Clitor--"
"Hiding behind, just like we are."
"Oh, the damned, the damned!" Benny went down on one knee and put a hand over Carlitos's shoulder. "I have a good feeling about this."
"Shall I call for battle-readiness, Cap--Benny?"
Captain Giambattista stood up. He gestured towards his swivel chair. Carlitos followed his command. "Battle-readiness? No Carlitos, no." He went to his floater. Interfacing, he flew, stopping at three inches away from the ceiling. "We are not going to attack the Clitoris."
"Benny? The Inquisition getting to you?"
He chuckled, tracing the smooth, dark aluminum. "Carlitos, do you know who Lord Chuckberry Manansala was?"
"No, not really. Trivia was more of Tyrone's domain."
"Ah, this is not trivia, Carlitos. It's history. Lord Manansala was responsible for the rise of the Union of the Patriarchy. Before the rise of the Dragon, before the disappearance of the Americas, before the Amazons ever knew power. Lord Manansala exterminated the Communist Party of the Philippines, and you know how he did it?"
"The suspense is murder."
"He flooded the countryside with cocaine. Not shabu, mind. Cocaine. Then he flooded public colleges and universities with cocaine."
"Were the students communists?"
"No," Benny chuckled, "no. Don't try to be funny. That was Tyrone's domain as well. Lord Manansala flooded the entire country with cocaine. Misery rose and crime exploded. Anarchy was loosed upon the Philippines. The Union then offered itself to the public as its Messiah. Order from chaos."
"That's history? Listen, I didn't believe that in high school, and I--" Carlitos spun on the swivel chair.
"Lord Manansala couldn't have gained power without the drug cartel. But after the Ascension, do you know what he did?"
"He exterminated the drug cartel. It was an enemy, see? The Union stood for order, not substance abuse. Lord Manansala knew when to use his enemies, and when to destroy them."
"And what does this have to do with the Clitoris?"
"We shall form a united front with the Amazons. The Clitoris and Samson, against the Dragon." Carlitos fell from the swivel chair. Benny floated down to help his First Officer up. "Is there a problem, Commander?"
"I better get June Chua's dossier."
3. Benny Giambattista traced the scab line in the middle of his palm. The Amazons said that their blood compact was based on an ancient Philippine ritual. Crazy crones! Such foolish superstitions! How did they ever wrest control away from the Union?
With their intelligence network, most probably. Benny looked at the projections above his table. The Dragon had a weak spot. With combined firepower, the Clitoris and Samson could disable its weapons. They wouldn't be able to destroy China, not that that option was desirable, but they would be able to get home. Recycling could only get you so far, after all. Benny didn't like the idea of eating his fatigues. It was a fate worse than working with the Amazons.
He interfaced, and floated towards Pity. The negotiations with the Amazon's new captain (June Chua had died with the Clitoris's encounter with China) took no less than seven meetings. Almost two months! How women loved to talk! Benny studied his third wife's painting the night before each meeting. Pity, drawn by a female, it gave him access to the feminine psyche. "Ah, damnedest of the damned. I've been reading too much of Tyrone's journals."
The journals, he read them too, after each meeting. After more than seventeen gigabytes of pun and riddles, Tyrone's jottings evolved into manifestos. Tracts about human equality! Treatises on the evils of patriarchy, not the Patriarchy, but patriarchy in general. Tyrone was a mad man, and he almost got his Catholic fundamentalists fried. Suicidal terrorists! As if the lesbians weren't bad enough. "When will these people recognize the natural order of things? Amazons, feminists, fundamentalists--anarchists all, as much a danger to the Union, to the Philippines, as the Dragon itself.
A knock. Carlitos.
Benny jumped off his floater, interfaced with the door and stepped out onto Samson's corridor. "Battle-ready?"
They headed towards the elevator. "The Amazons?"
"Captain Culasa's engines are roaring."
"'Roaring'? You sound like that damned Tyrone." Benny interfaced with the elevator. "Bridge!"
"Why do you never use the portal?"
"That damned contraption? You know those damned Jorges descended from the Last Men?" They stepped onto the Bridge. Benny jumped onto his floater, interfaced to call up the projections. There was the Clitoris, and there was Samson. There was the moon, and thousands of kilometers away in digital equivalence, was the Dragon. He interfaced with communications. "This is Lord Captain Benny Giambattista." He had taken some portions of his speech from Tyrone's journals. The Amazons should be impressed. "Today we stand, two crews divided by sex, religion, politics, power. Today we stand, together, facing a common enemy. My third wife, she made a painting for me. It is called Pity. She told me, before we launched some months ago, that it was based on a Catholic motif forgotten by most Catholics of today. A painting of Catholic design, a painting made by a woman. A fitting symbol of our alliance today. Perhaps, we, men, women, unionists, feminists, Catholics, humanists, can still find common ground, are still capable of acts of solidarity. In the end, we are all Filipinos. In the end, we just want to go home. Raise your swords and shields then, today we stand--and face the Flying Country. Death to the Dragon! Commander Decena, I want to hear our engines roar!"
Benny didn't feel Samson move, but its projection did. So did the Clitoris's. China was located almost seventy thousand meters over the Panay Islands. For the past three months they have monitored seventeen assaults on Philippine aircraft. China. Could Tyrone's crazy theories have any truth in them? Were there Chinese no more? Were there aliens on the Dragon, robots?
Carlitos: "Two minutes before contact."
Captain Culasa announced from the Clitoris: "Target acquired. Launching nukes."
Carlitos: "Acknowledged. Target acquired. Launching nukes."
Culasa: "Their shields are holding!"
Lord Captain Benny Giambattista interfaced with his laser. Carlitos's head collapsed into his computer monitor. He interfaced with weapons. An image disappeared from the projections. "Thus went the last flight of the Clitoris." He chuckled, interfacing with the helm. Samson dove towards China, launching nuke after nuke.
Benny floated back to the middle of the bridge. He looked at the projections. Already there was only one image remaining.
"Damn Catholic saboteurs..."
Philippines Free Press
May 2, 2009
(Originally publishing as "The Last Flight")